In biblical times, it was called gleaning

And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather the fallen fruit of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and for the stranger

Haju Sunim, a Buddhist priest in Ann Arbor, calls dumpster diving a modern day version of Buddhist tradition. According to Environment Report, In the time of the Buddha, monks and nuns would make their clothes from the scraps they found on corpses, or from what they salvaged from garbage piles. Even today, some modern-day Buddhists make and wear their own patched robes:

In the whole tradition of the patched robe monk there is this whole thing about making things last a long time-patching them, patching them, patching them. And taking care with soap to make it last as long as can. Actually just taking care of a set of clothing to make it last for long time has whole kind of spiritual aspect to it, if you do it!

It is a short step from gleaning to today's dumpster diving, or skip-dipping as it is called in the UK and Australia where dumpsters are known as skips. And there is even a whole sub-culture of people who practice it: Freegans.

The New York Times describes them:

Freegans are scavengers of the developed world, living off consumer waste in an effort to minimize their support of corporations and their impact on the planet, and to distance themselves from what they see as out-of-control consumerism. They forage through supermarket trash and eat the slightly bruised produce or just-expired canned goods that are routinely thrown out, and negotiate gifts of surplus food from sympathetic stores and restaurants.

They have developed a philisophical rationale:

Freegans are people who employ alternative strategies for living based on limited participation in the conventional economy and minimal consumption of resources. Freegans embrace community, generosity, social concern, freedom, cooperation, and sharing in opposition to a society based on materialism, moral apathy, competition, conformity, and greed.

In some cases it has become institutionalized, where stale-dated food and other goods are donated by stores and restaurants to the poor. Of course in the United States you might get sued if you do this, so President Clinton passed the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in 1996 so that stuff could be donated without liability to the donor.

Read the next page "Real Dumpster Diving and Skip-dipping."